Driven

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Once upon a time, only several short months ago, I did not spend nearly two hours per day in my car. My home was remarkably close to my work. I spent just 20 minutes total driving per day, sometimes less, bumbling mindlessly down one main thoroughfare and directly into my neighborhood. I sat in no traffic. I waited in no lines. There were days when I wouldn’t even hit a single red light, and would cruise seamlessly through each intersection toward home, with nary a glance at the world around me, nor a single thought about the millions in gridlock on every freeway surrounding me.

How very unlucky I was.

I hardly had a moment to enjoy a single song on the radio. By the time my mind floated even slightly away from my barrage of work, I was already pulling into the driveway, ready to begin the next bustling and mentally-occupied segment of my day. There was no wake up time. No wind down time. No contemplating the sunrise or sunset, nor even the occasional viewing of either. I could not revel in how mossy green the hills had grown due to the recent rains, nor was I aware of the nuance day by day as they turned brown once again.

There was no time to explore music. I seldom wept over its beauty – turning the volume up, then up again, then just a little bit louder, until it sloshed like Drano through the avenues of my mind, breaking up the plaque of stress built up in the bends and curves where nothing else could reach. I knew not of the zany idiosyncrasies of my favorite classical music radio deejay, nor was I able to look forward to the clockwork of the morning off-to-school request, and the inspiring, familiar sounds that lay therein.

I had little to no convenient outlet for conversational prayer, for talking to myself, or for creativity. No special chance to sit, stationary, with nothing to do but write song lyrics, or mentally will poetry into existence, or thank God for my incredible family, or contemplate how to become a better teacher, or endlessly and aimlessly DREAM.

This measly twenty minutes of transit left me no time for books. I could not devour novels on a monthly or weekly basis. No Elizabeth Bennett instilling quiet yet brazen confidence within me; no Huck Finn reminding me how little one needs to be blissfully happy. No Orwell whispering about how no one is to be trusted; no Thomas Paine pushing me, urging me toward integrity and common sense. No Liz Gilbert earnestly searching for truth through my speakers and into my soul.

I was unable to keep a “to listen” list of podcasts, providing stimulating and brain-nurturing dinner conversation with my husband and family, for there was no time “to listen” in the first place. No time for a knowledge of current events, or for listening with great interest to the goings on of life outside my frivolous and self-indulged bubble.

Well, not anymore. Those melancholy days are over. Now, I’m ever so fortunate. I have nothing but time for education, literary inundation, and self-contemplation. Every single day. In a great stroke of luck and a moving of my life to a new city, I have suddenly been gifted with over an hour and half per day in one of my very favorite places to be: my trusty car.

Paint peeling, no air conditioning, jolting over every bump like the Indiana Jones ride; there is always adventure to be had. 5pm, leaving work, shoes off, knee bent up on the seat, hand out the window, and breathing in the day. With the proper song and a just-right magic in the air, that “road trip” feeling can creep in comically, unexpectedly – even while driving 15 miles per hour, bottle-necking into a one-lane canyon on a Thursday afternoon. The sensation rides in on the twilight breeze that blows my hair from a put-together teacher bun to that of a wind-swept, sun-kissed child of the Earth.

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I arrive home wild. Wilder than the girl who walked out of the classroom with her laptop bag slung over her shoulder.

I arrive home smarter. Smarter than the girl who had driven the very same route the day before. With Hemingway in her ears, and the ability to tell you the latest in Israel, and the desire to bring up that report she just heard on education amongst minorities. She is wild. She is smart. She is empowered.

The road has given me the gift of time; time to become a different person than I was the day before. And along the way, she has provided me with new friends.

The lavender that grow wild on the hillside at the corner of Chino Hills Parkway and Chino Avenue greet me daily. Heads swaying in the afternoon breeze, cheerfulness and optimism waft from them onto the air and into my being.

Inexplicably, I grow glad when I see the old crossing guard outside Alcott Elementary School, standing next to his Buick in that ratty neon vest, smoking a cigarette from 7:10 to 7:15am before his daily tasks begin.

Carbon Canyon’s random, precarious stacks of jagged, sandy-colored stones are acquaintances whose company I appreciate while I can, and with a sense of urgency, for they may topple any day and salute me no more.

The lonely wisteria tree, leaning up against a crooked chain link fence on the eastern border of Carbon Canyon Park once turned my drive into a scavenger hunt, popping up in my dreams without a point of reference, until one day, I spotted it, thrilled, wondering what its significance in my thoughts may be.

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I chuckle each time I see the “Falling Rocks” sign near Olinda Village, into which someone has cleverly inserted the words “In Love”. It’s true. Falling in love rocks.

Louis, the elderly man who sits outside the old liquor store in Sleepy Hollow, and his grey brut of a dog, Watusi, make me eager to inch through the narrow twisty-turns of that eerie neighborhood, just so I can wave good morning, and breathe in the comfort of seeing them there yet another day, as surely as the world spins in space.

Mostly, though, there are the mountains. Those steadfast confidantes peering down at me, shifting and dynamic in their sunrise and sunset shadows; tops capped with white after much-needed rains, with that same icy halo retreating upward toward the sky all too quickly as the California sun beats mercilessly down. Daily, hourly, these peaks beckon me to places wild, snatching my imagination and my desires and placing them onto trails unknown. They are the guardians of the slice of my heart belonging to creation; scaffolding within me that wide-eyed and curious longing for all things rugged.

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This very morning, as I locked the front door and wished the rosebush a day of many happy blooms, the sun was just rising beyond my neighbor’s heavy-laden lemon tree out front of my house. The sky glowed soft pink. As I propelled due south on Towne Avenue, with each intersection I passed through, a fiery 7:05 sunrise glared through the driver’s side window, wooing me from the night’s drowsiness and drawing me, like a pulley from the well, out of yesterday into a bright day anew.

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Who would I be without all this? What stagnation would seep into me if not for the perfect, simultaneous sameness and newness of this drive? What lethargy lived in me before this part of my life existed? At its very presence, I am both surprised by and grateful for my commute, and for these many new-found hours to blossom into the strange, enlightened girl I am becoming.

Not everyone gets to commute 45 minutes each way to work. I sure am glad I’m one of the lucky hundreds and hundreds of thousands. Now, I am wilder. I am smarter. I am driven.

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